Record sizzle, but no Dean

The same high pressure ridge that's baking the bay area also nudged the hurricane away.

By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer
Published August 21, 2007

Grab some water. Stay indoors. But if you must go outdoors, head for the shade.

It's sizzling hot in much of Florida and the Southeast, with scores of record temperatures the past two days.

The high Monday at Tampa International Airport was 96 degrees, surpassing the old record of 95, set in 1895. Sunday's temperature also struck 96, surpassing the record of 94, set in 2005.

The normal high for this time of year is 90 degrees.

"In the shade it's okay," said writing instructor Michael Sampson, 54, of St. Petersburg as he relaxed in a downtown park despite the heat. "But in the sun it's very hot."

Tennis teacher Motez Robinson, 44, called it "sun hot."

But don't complain too much. The same high pressure ridge that's making it so hot is also helping to keep Hurricane Dean far south of the Tampa Bay area.

Dean, with winds of 150 mph, was expected to smash ashore early today on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. It has killed at least 12 people across the Caribbean.

"It's hot," said John Feerick, meteorologist with AccuWeather.com. "That's not necessarily a good thing. But it's a blessing as far as Dean is concerned."

Other parts of the Southeast are also suffering from brutally hot days.

Memphis has recorded nine straight days of triple-digit temperatures. About 50 heat-related deaths have been logged in the Midwest and Southeast, including Tennessee and Alabama.

Feerick said the high pressure ridge responsible for the hot temperatures is located over the Southeast. Usually, it is farther east, over the Atlantic Ocean.

"It's parked farther west than we normally see it and it's stronger than we normally see it," he said.

The ridge is creating strong winds from the east, said John Petro, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

"We're not getting a whole lot of cloud cover," he said. "All those factors combined lead to temperatures that are five, seven, eight degrees above normal."

The normal high this time of year is about 90 degrees.

The heat has pushed electricity use to new highs. Both Progress Energy and Tampa Electric reported that they were on track to beat their summer peaks.

Tampa Electric spokesman Rick Morera said Monday afternoon that the utility had "unofficially surpassed" its summer peak record of 4,265 megawatts, set on Aug. 8. Tampa Electric has more than 660,000 customers and a capacity of 4,686 megawatts.

Progress Energy, with nearly 1.7-million customers and a capacity of more than 9,000 megawatts, hit 9,276 megawatts on Aug. 7, close to its all-time summer record of 9,406 megawatts, set on Aug. 16, 2005.

"It looks like there is a good chance that we will break our summer record today," said Progress Energy spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs on Monday afternoon. "We will know for sure in the morning."

Florida Power & Light, the state's largest utility with 4.4-million customers, stayed well below the summer peak record it set in 2005, said spokesman Mayco Villafana.

The hot temperatures are expected to continue through Wednesday, with highs in the mid 90s, according the National Weather Service.

To better endure the heat, Petro encouraged people to "avoid the sunshine."

"Every degree warmer it gets," he said, "it puts more stress on your body."

Meanwhile, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center are watching a storm system a few hundred miles northeast of the northern Leeward Islands.

Forecasters stress that it's only a tropical wave, but conditions are favorable for it to develop into something more over the next couple of days. The system is west or northwest at 15 to 20 mph.

Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writers Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler and Asjylyn Loder contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (727) 893-8813 or mave@sptimes.com.